Coyotes could use some work, from top to bottom

The Phoenix Coyotes under the reign of Wayne Gretzky and Mike Barnett have been a major disappointment. They have missed the playoffs four of the last five seasons and they will make it five of six at this season's end. The Dogs have little hope to improve in the immediate future and their long-term prognosis is also questionable because of poor drafting.

In 2002, they drafted someone called Jakub Koreis with their first pick. He is 22 years old, and in his first 175 AHL games, he has 10 goals and 21 assists. Available at the time: Cam Ward and Jarret Stoll.

In 2003, the Coyotes had no first- or second-round picks. In 2004, they chose Blake Wheeler, a Minnesota high school player who is playing for the Golden Gophers in Minnesota and having a pretty good year. The '04 draft was the Ovechkin/Malkin draft. It's a little early, but it doesn't appear the 2004 draft will end up being terribly deep in terms of big-time talent. In 2005, the Coyotes selected Martin Hanzal of the Czech Republic, who is having a good year for Red Deer of the WHL, leading the league in scoring. Both Wheeler and Hanzal are tall forwards. They are very good prospects, but we'll see how their size translates if speed and agility continue to be important in the NHL. The Coyotes chose USA Hockey product Peter Mueller eighth overall last June. Mueller is playing for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL. The Silvertips are 27-5-1 and Mueller is their leading scorer. His statistics suggest he will probably will end up as a second-line center in the NHL. Mueller is not a big-time offensive player right now but is a solid all-around player. He's only 18, so he certainly could evolve into something that far exceeds what scouts believe he can do.

The most important talent a front office can have after luck is talent evaluation. Then vision, organization and passion. Does the Coyotes' front office have enough of these qualities to warrant being at the helm of the Coyotes beyond this year? The inability to draft well forced them to make a decision: sign older free agents or sacrifice a few seasons to play all of the young kids and continue to finish near the bottom of the league standings and accumulate top-three draft picks. They chose to sign older free agents, some at reasonable deals and others, like Ed Jovanovski, at exorbitant prices. In the short term this will get the Coyotes a few extra wins, but in the long term it won't get Phoenix big-time, top-three overall draft-pick talent. It got them Peter Mueller last June, while the Penguins got Jordan Staal at No. 2 overall.

Talent evaluation: In terms of the draft, there have been clear failures. The ultimate grade for the last three won't be known for a few years, but none of the players appear to be franchise players you can build a Stanley Cup winner behind. Phoenix would be better off finishing with the worst record after this season and ending up with the first or second pick. It's difficult to mess up those picks. They can just pick up The Hockey News and pick its projected No. 1. But, with the path they chose, there is a chance they will come together a bit with their older team, including unrestricted free agents playing for contracts. Instead of picking first or second overall, they could end up selecting fifth or sixth.

They have put Shane Doan at the front and center of the organization, and while his courage, durability and character cannot be questioned, his talent can be. He had 13 even-strength goals last season. He's an average talent who should play 15 to 16 minutes a night. He's a second- or third-line player on a good team. He would be a valuable addition to a playoff team this season that's in need of a player with size and physical play who can score a little bit. I think it would be good for him and good for the Coyotes to start over.

Vision: What is the vision here? Mike Comrie, Ladislav Nagy, Jeremy "Early Bird Special" Roenick, Georges Laraque, on and on. It seems like a very strange mix. A throw-it-on-a-wall-and-see-what-sticks course of action. Of course, Wayne Gretzky was on a hockey committee -- Canada's Olympics team -- that chose Todd Bertuzzi over Sidney Crosby last winter. This team looks like a group of B-list musicians headed by Paul Shaffer. Wang Chung meets Poison meets Aaron Neville meets Smashmouth meets Chumbawamba. Perhaps they will be better in the second half because of all the changes, but this does not look like a post-lockout playoff roster.

Organization: From top to bottom, is everyone on the same page here? Is there too much nepotism throughout the organization? Is everyone truly competent at their jobs? The Rich Tocchet affair did not bother all that much from a gambling standpoint. I don't care if people gamble.

Yes, our society sailed the lottery ship a long time ago. The Penguins were trying to build a rink partly on the back of Gamblin' Grandma's Social Security check quarters that she will pump into Pittsburgh slot machines in 2007. What bothered me from the Tocchet affair was that it lacked a sense of organization and organizational seriousness to me. This is a quarter of a billion-dollar company that is trying to plant roots and gain footing where there has never been a backyard rink. At the same time, the bench misses Tocchet's presence.

Passion: This is where everything starts. Is there enough here? Does Wayne fly home too much to California? Is he a constant presence around the practice rink? Is living in California and working in Arizona good for him, his family and the Coyotes? Is he the first one off the ice sometimes at practice? Are the players convinced he is preparing them as if he had little net worth and his future net worth depended on winning now and in the future? Has there been too much on his plate with Team Canada, painful bereavement, commercials, a big and young family, a wife, a mini-empire and trying to continue his role as hockey's ambassador? His character, kindness and hockey sovereignty are unquestioned and beyond reproach. But you do have to wonder if he is emotionally in a good place to hire, draft, coach and lead a franchise. I'm sure the Coyotes ownership will need to see some steps soon, otherwise we could see major changes coming soon to Phoenix. Then again, maybe they've seen enough.

To: John

From: Pittsburgh

God help us.

I have a good feeling the Penguins are staying in Pittsburgh.


Fighting in the NHL costs you five minutes, not 15 games.

Joe Dykta

God bless you, Joe. And God bless America. And Canada.


How many Carmelo Anthonys would it take to equal one Derek Boogaard?

Steve Morlock
Park Ridge, Ill.


Dear Bucci,

As an avid reader of your column and a Swede living here in the United States, I was honored by the long-overdue Hakan-Hanukkah song. I would just like to thank you for honoring the coolest name in hockey and one of the best hockey players Sweden has ever seen.

Johan Olofsson
Palm Beach, Fla.

Someday, we will get the Hakan-Hanukkah song recorded. My hope is the Barenaked Ladies or Adam Sandler will take up this project.

Hi John,

My name is Mike Gwizdala and I'm a huge hockey fan and, being from Albany, N.Y., a big-time Albany River Rats fan. I was just curious to know since I follow hockey religiously as to why the Pittsburgh Penguins are potentially moving. While not a Pens fan, I know that they've had numerous financial issues, but wasn't that the reason we had a lockout for an entire year?

Best regards,
Michael Gwizdala

Because Penguins ownership wants a new arena to maximize revenue streams. This would in turn maximize the value of the franchise. Your house has value, no matter the condition. But if your house has a finished basement, central air, new garage doors, a new furnace and a slamming kitchen, you will get more for your house. Ninety-nine percent of professional sports owners are concerned primarily of the value of the franchise. It's how they get more rich.


Thanks for putting a Mercyhurst Reference in your mailbag! Our school is pathetic at everything but hockey and drinking; it's nice to get some big-time credit. Thanks for everything that you and Barry do for hockey!

Jason Wenzke
Mercyhurst Alum
Syracuse, N.Y.

Nothing else matters in college. Be smart, have fun, bond and read a book now and then.


First of all, compliments of the season. And the gift I give to all the hockey fans who can't watch the games because they live in far-spread parts of the world, especially my fellow Pens fans who are developing serious karma points for when we win the Cup next year, is that YouTube carries quite a few of the games for all the teams, and some classic ones depending on the team. Thought you might want to share this with the masses who miss hockey, which is even more exciting when it's more than a 15-second highlight or a box score.

Wishing you a great day, a good week, an all right month and a not too bad new year.

Waikato, New Zealand

There has never been a better time to be an NHL fan. Yes, it would be nice in the U.S. to get more covers on Sports Illustrated and more talk on the radio, but in terms of information and video, it is all out there. Rejoice, rejoice.

Boochie the Greek,

Let's put those prognosticating skills to the test. Look into your crystal ball and tell us what happens with the Pens now.

Ron Coughenour
Phoenixville, Pa.

I don't understand why the casino can't up their contribution to $10 million a year. I would think naming rights could fetch maybe $2.5 million a year. So, the team has to contribute $2.5 million a year. The Steelers and Pirates didn't have their houses built entirely by taxpayer money. That's $15 million a year total between the casino, naming rights and the team. Over 30 years, that is $450 million. That can't build a state-of-the-art arena that could last for 100 years? A debt-free arena would add to the franchise value and, as I stated above, that's what it is all about, but it can be done here.


Do you think Bettman has something up his sleeve to pull off a miracle and be able to keep the Pens in the burgh?

Jason Budday
Raleigh, N.C.

The only thing Gary Bettman has up his sleeve is Ted Saskin.

Hey, John,

I enjoy your column weekly from Jeonju, South Korea, where I teach English to kindergarten and elementary school students. Now, Korea isn't exactly a hotbed of hockey (though they did take gold in the recently concluded Asia Games), but it isn't nonexistent. In my town of 600,000 or so, there is an ice rink lined and boarded for hockey and a kids academy ("hagwon") that practices every day. My inline/ice team scrimmages with them every Sunday, and they're not bad! Great skaters, solid positionally with good puck-handling skills, but even the best players are generally weak shooters -- not one defenseman can reliably get a point shot off the ice. But that isn't the point. The point is that these kids, including a few girls, play hockey six days a week and love every minute of it, from warming their skates at the kerosene heater in the locker room to heaving the nets off the ice at the end of practice so the speed skaters can take over. It truly is a worldwide sport, and it's almost as much fun to watch as the last live hockey game I saw, on June 19.

Cassidy Cobbs
Formerly of North Carolina, a Thrashers fan, and stuck in Korea until next July.

E-mails like that give me a very warm feeling inside. Read it again.


Can you puh-lease start giving my Canadiens some luv! I mean, we are currently second in the conference (points-wise) and people are still complaining in MTL!? Somebody like you needs to set 'em straight and lay down how good we're actually playing!


I wrote this back in November: "This is one of those balanced teams that I should have recognized in the preseason. Nothing will come easy for the Habs and they will need to work, but I like their chances."

At the Christmas break, the Canadiens had given up the second most shots on goal in the NHL. So they will need to get good goaltending. One reason Montreal is playing so well is its third-period scoring. The Habs have scored the fourth most third-period goals and given up the second fewest. (The Red Wings have given up the fewest third period goals.) This is the sign of a cohesive, well-coached team with good leadership. They also have a very good power play, leading the league as I word-process this. Their penalty kill is second best behind the Oilers. They appear to be a solid playoff team.


When did you become a communist?

You are wrong about Balsillie. And it smacks of double standard. When the Nordiques and Jets left Canada for the southern U.S., we Canadians were told that it was the wave of the future. Stop complaining about it and embrace modern hockey. It's the economics.

So, now the Canadian dollar is doing much better, the Penguins are not supported (I'll back that up later) and some rich Canadian wants to buy the franchise. Who cares if he wants to move it? Who cares about the "rich" tradition of the Penguins. If there is $$ to be made in Kitchener or anywhere else, he has a right to do it. And he has a right to back out of a business arrangement if he is not happy with the terms. At any time. If Lemieux's lawyers weren't smart enough to put any terms into the agreement, then that's Lemieux's problem.

The Penguins getting Crosby is the worst thing for hockey, not the best. This franchise has had two of the best players in history, Lemieux and Jagr. The Penguins have won two Cups and are one of two franchises to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. Here we are in 2006, and they can't fill the building, despite having two of the best young hockey players around (Crosby and Malkin). They don't deserve to keep the franchise. Want proof: Flyers, Dec. 13 (attendance: 14,150, interstate rivals); Florida, Dec. 5 (12,501); Boston, Nov. 20 (16,958); Rangers, Nov. 18 (16,737). There have been sellouts in this time period, but they have the transcendent hockey talent in Crosby. That building should be filled every night. You would get 20,000 people in Flin Flon (population 6,200) to see this guy.

If Balsillie buys the franchise and moves it, or someone else buys it and moves it -- deal with it. It's the market dictating this move, not some hysterically shifty computer nerd.


Jim Balsillie is an opportunist with money who wanted more money and is now trying to save face so his product doesn't get any more bad publicity. I don't care if he is from Guam, Iran or Ontario. I agree the Penguins should be selling out every game. But the Penguins aren't a great team yet and Pittsburgh is more interested in teams than stars. Hey, I wrote when the Balsillie announcement was made that Ontario could definitely support another NHL team. The demo is there. There is no doubt with a strong pool of talent in the NHL, you will see the NHL expand by two teams within the next five to 10 years. One in the U.S. and one in Canada.


I think it's time for the public to admit that Southern expansion has been good for hockey. The Southeast has become one of the most competitive divisions, plus Nashville is tearing it up in the Central. The region is starting to develop quality players (e.g., Blake Geoffrion; granted, his genes are pretty good), and attendance in most of these cities is good and getting better with Tampa, Atlanta, Nashville, Dallas and Carolina all at 85 percent capacity or more. In fact, the bottom six in attendance are composed of two Original Six teams (Bruins and Blackhawks), three 1960s and '70s expansion teams (Caps, Islanders, Blues) and one from the largest market with several Cups to their name (Devils, who had only 10,000 at their last game against Atlanta). As Ali G would say, let's give the South some RESPEK!

Jordan Hirschfield


I just read your article on "Baldsilly" and I have to say that you could quite possibly be the biggest redneck I've ever met.

If I ever saw you in the street I would knock you out.

James Carney


And here is my anthem:

Well, a few nights later I run into her
With some stranger on a park bench
She said he rebuilds engines and his name is Earl
He's the Charlie Daniels of the torque wrench
I whispered, Honey, let's just go on home
And have some onion rings and watch TV
And as I walked her to the truck
Earl was cryin', Don't you leave me
I told him

This is the queen of my double wide trailer
With the polyester curtains and the redwood deck
Sometimes shes runs and I've got to trail her
Dang her black heart and her pretty red neck

"Queen Of My Double Wide Trailer" by Sammy Kershaw

I love you, Canada!

Hi, John,

I can understand you would like the Penguins to remain in Pittsburgh. I would too if I lived in the region. But I'm sure most people in Winnipeg and Quebec also wanted to keep their teams. Did you jump to their defense?

Geoff Milne

I didn't have a column then. I would like the Penguins to remain in Pittsburgh primarily so Mario Lemieux has a uniform and a legacy. My entire point on Balsillie was that he was disingenuous and untrustworthy. I don't think taxpayers should have to pay for billionaires to have new, rent-free arenas that escalate their franchise value at no return for the tax payer who gave him his house. If Balsillie came to Pittsburgh and said, "Mario is my friend. No matter what casino company gets the license, I will work with them, get a good naming-rights deal and throw in a couple million dollars from what will obviously be a profitable team, and we will get this done. I have been blessed with plenty of money. We have been blessed with surreal young talent. We will get this done. Mario deserves to continue to have an NHL jersey. I'm going to ensure it." That would have been cool.


What is with all of the hostility toward a Canadian moving his company to a Canadian city? I am certain that if he were to have moved the Penguins to Kitchener/Waterloo, the arena would be near sellouts almost every game, which is something that very few NHL cities can say this year. So please explain to me why putting a team in a city that would actually support the NHL is a bad thing?

Tyler Hartin

Again, Tyler, I am all for more teams in Canada. For various reasons stated throughout this e-mail bag, I just don't think that team should be the Penguins.

Hi, John
I'm interested in your view about the imbalance within the NHL when it comes to the value of a win. Some games being worth three points, others just two. I believe if the NHL is going to award a point for losing in OT or a shootout, the standard for a regulation win should be three points. An OT/SO win worth two, thus the third point going to the loser. As of tonight, the Habs' record vs. the Buffaslugs is 2-1-2 = 6 points. Conversely, the Sabres' record vs. the Habs is 3-1-1 = 7 points. They have only played five games, indicating there should be 10 points. But yet the two teams have amassed 13 points. This fuzzy math means that if you are fortunate enough to lose enough games on OT, you can bump a team with more wins out of the playoffs.

Thanks for your time.
Glenn Miller
Yardville, N.J.

I'm all for regulation wins counting more, but I don't see the NHL ever going that way. It ensures tighter races down the stretch, more teams in the playoff chase and a few more tickets sold. That equals more revenues. I don't see the point situation changing.


Don't mean to turn this into an NCAA hockey forum, but you got to love the passion from the Gophers and the Badgers. Can't wait to see them favored Gophers play Holy Cross again! And before you Minnesota fans start talking about the Sioux's troubles, look at the past two years at this time, and look where they ended up! To get to the point, it's a little early in the year to be picking a winner -- or is it a whiner? You guys have me confused.

Shawn Bullinger
Fargo, N.D.

Hi, John,

I'm a student at the U of M. I have season Gophers tickets, so I've seen all the prospects in action. Through the beginning of the season, I personally believe that Erik Johnson was lazy and made bad decisions in the defensive end. As of late, he's improved a bit, but he still isn't a dominating force as a No. 1 label would describe. Personally, Alex Goligoski is looking more promising in terms of maturity and overall potential.

Considering forwards, on the other hand, Kyle Okposo is the real deal. He's got the moves, the vision, the attitude and most importantly, he plays defense. I'm excited to see his transition to the NHL.

Kevin McGrath
Minneapolis, Minn.

Thanks for the report, Kevin. Keep the scouting reports coming.


My hockey-obsessed son Finn (aka Finnian Power Carney) made me really happy this year when he asked if we could go to a Kings game for his fifth birthday. I'll take a hockey game over a bounce-house in the backyard any day, and it was a great way to introduce hockey to his two friends, who had never been to a game.

Tucker Carney
Los Angeles

We three Kings, yo.

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.